Four ways to keep Wales as “The Land of Song”

(Title Image: Incorporated Society of Musicians)

Culture Committee
Funding & Access to Music Education (pdf)
Published: 14th June 2018

Chair’s Statement, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West):

“The sector has also suffered from the absence of a clear strategy and vision for music services, one that effectively integrates music service provision and pupil progression pathways and ensures that tuition is focused on potential, rather than payment.”

1. The Welsh Government should transfer responsibility for music services to a national body

At the moment, local authorities and individual schools are (mainly) responsible for providing funding and opportunities for young musicians. Although some councils work together, witnesses believed Wales was small enough for this to be done at a national level, possibly at least part-funded by local authorities.

Many councils have cut funding and now pass the costs of music services onto parents. This means only the children from wealthier backgrounds can really afford to participate to the point where there were fears it was leading to an “elitist musical society”.

The proposal wasn’t met with enthusiasm by those who would have to deliver it. The WLGA raised concerns about different funding levels from different authorities and, as a result, any “centralised, top-down approach” wouldn’t necessarily work. Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), also said she wouldn’t impose structures on local authorities.

2. Alternative models of delivery

Denbighshire set up a not-for-profit co-operative to provide music services. Music tutors are self-employed with the co-operative providing management. There is, however, very little practical support for such models available.

The Committee also raised concerns about the practice of employing self-employed music tutors. Uncertainty surrounding funding and working conditions (i.e. sickness benefits) often resulted in people leaving the industry.

The most famous alternative model of delivery in Wales is the Aloud charity (Only Boys Aloud), who don’t charge for lessons, don’t hold auditions and work with (mainly) boys who often don’t have natural musical ability. Professional musicians like Amy Wadge and Dr Owain Arwel Hughes have also offered to provide support, including recorded “master class” lessons, for music education.

3. Moving beyond classical into other genres

Music education has traditionally focused on classical music and orchestral instruments; classical instruments often being far more expensive than popular instruments.

While the Committee welcomed an announcement that the Welsh Government will provide £10,000 to each council to buy instruments, they didn’t believe it was sufficient to make a difference; a recent Welsh Government “instrument amnesty” was said to be pointless because there’s little funding to support lessons in the first place.

One idea was to focus on the “underdeveloped rock and pop sector”, with modern genres being held in the same esteem as classical music, including the possible establishment of a Rock & Pop Academy.

4. A clear “progression pyramid”, starting in schools

The top of the music education ladder in Wales is becoming a member of one of the national ensembles (i.e. National Orchestra of Wales). To get there, musicians often work their way to the top of their class, then to the top of a regional/local ensemble/orchestra etc. before being in a position to audition.

School and local authority music services are the foundation stones, so cuts there will eventually lead to problems further up the pyramid – applications to national ensembles having already fallen.

The number of pupils studying music at GCSE level has also declined, but it’s hoped the forthcoming new National Curriculum will give – through its goal of “enterprising, creative contributors” – music and other creative arts subjects a more equal position to academic disciplines. It’s often sidelined as a subject as it’s not included in Welsh Government school performance measures.

The Welsh Government are drafting an Endowment Fund (launched as “Anthem” earlier this year), but there was said to be a potential problem if National Youth Arts Wales and Anthem were both to seek funding from the same places.

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